Thursday, April 29, 2010

A leauge full of Davids

Recently I've been to a few MLS games in the past couple of weeks checking out TFC and the various teams that have been coming through town, and I have to say one thing struck me as I chugged $9 beers. The MLS for all its good fiscal planning etc is a fairly boring league.

What seems to be missing is a team to hate, meaning that there is no big bad dominate team that everyone wants to see and beat. The MLS prides itself on being a fair league, every team has a chance to win at the beginning of the year. With the salary cap system it insures no one team becomes to strong and rules the roost over the other. However this lack of a league superpower makes the league actually more predictable and less attractive to fans.

Take for example the New York Yankees, they are by far the most powerful baseball team in baseball and yes you can count on them to win the majority of the games they play. However this does not stop fans from shelling out the money to come see them. In fact the cities the Yankees visit see a spike in their overall attendance as people come to see the stars the Yankees have, and to possibly see their team upset the mighty Yankees. Plus people love to hate the Yankees and will pay to just to boo them at games.

In soccer Manchester United or Real Madrid fit this "Yankee" mold. In fact if you take the English Premier League as an example, you generally know who will finish in the important top 4 spots in the league table. England has the big 4 Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Most fans know who will win the majority of the games and end up at the top of the table, however this has not diminished attendance. In fact it has risen by as much as 60%. These four teams are the richest clubs in the league by far, however fans still turn out even if they know the odds are not in their favour. These fans go for the same reason the baseball fan goes when the Yankees play their team, the stars and the any given Sunday mentality.

This is what is missing form the MLS, there is no one to root against. No home game TFC has feels like a derby game or has that intensity that other leagues around the world have. At the end of the day the fan leaves feeling like what they just watched didn't really matter. A league full of Davids is simply not that attractive.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Youth are starting to change

Over the past few months I have been really paying close attention to the next generation of players who will make it big (One hopes) in world football. When evaluating young talent there is a lot to take in. However there is little doubt when you see the skill a young player has on the ball or in the form they have when they shoot. Figuring out if a player has the mental strength to survive the highest levels of the game is not my strong suit, but in this list of players I'm about to unveil I can tell you that based on skill these boys make the grade.

Here are my top 5 young guns to look out for:

5) Mario Balotelli (Italy/Inter Milan) No doubt the boy is a bit of head case and massively impatient. However no one can doubt that he has the body and strength of a full grown professional footballer. He also has a knack of scoring big goals in big matches. Especially in Milan derby's and in European competitions. The question will always be can he put the ego aside and accept the role given to him...that question is still be answered.

4) Sergio Canales (Spain/Racing de Santander, Real Madrid, As of Sep 2010)
Trust me when I say this boy is a special talent, it's the reason Real Madrid spent 5 million Euros to sign him for next season. At 19 Canales will be the next generation of great Spanish talent with goal scoring ability and excellent vision, in the line of Cesc Fabregas and Xavi. My one fear is that he'll get buried at Madrid behind all the high priced midfield talent they have at the club. However it could also be a time for him to shine considering the clean out Real does every summer.

3)Eden Hazard (Belgium/Lille)
Hazard is one of the most sought after young players in European football. His recent displays against Liverpool in the Europa league has added fuel to this fire. He is technically gifted with two excellent feet and full pitch vision. Hazard also possess excellent pace on the wing, allowing him to either set up his strikers or create space for himself to take a shot. Unlike the two below him, Hazard will not have an opportunity to show off at the World Cup this year as Belgium did not qualify, however he will become the offensive anchor for the national team over the next 10 years or so.

2)Mesut Özil (Germany/Werder Bremen)
He is an excellent two footed attacking midfielder who is on the cusp of breaking thru to the German senior squad, and I'll be very surprised if he's not in the running to make Germany's 2010 WC squad. His has an amazing shot from distance and is a great play maker for those around him. At last summer's Euro U21, he stole the show as Germany romped to the tournament title. He's still growing into his body which makes his strength an issue, but he makes up for this with excellent technical ability.

1)Angel Di Maria (Argentina/Benfica)
Hard choice as all of these player could have taken the number one spot, however based on what I've seen Di Maria is the next big player. His pace, technical ability on the ball, and the fact that he seems to raise his game to the next level when his team needs him the most says to me that he can be a world class player. He is a left footed attacking player but he has shown that his right can be just as deadly. Di Maria also scores big goals for Benfica which currently sits atop the league in Portugal and he's a massive reason why. As I said for Özil, I would be shocked if Di Maria was left of the Argentina squad for WC 2010 as he provides an natural left wing attack for Maradona's squad.

Honourable mentions: Joe Hart, Daniel Sturridge,Federico "Kiko" Macheda, Gervinho, Bojan Krkić, Pedro, Adam Johnson, Stefan Kießling.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The onset of the silly season!

As the coming European football season is coming to a close many of us start looking forward to the onset of what is called the silly season, or more accurately the summer transfer window. During this time and in the run up to it news outlets and soccer sites begin to speculate (without much solid evidence) which player is being bought by which team and for how much. Also this is the time for club supporters to begin dreaming of the next big name signing for their club, see my previous article as an example.

Over the next few weeks and months I'll post some of the best, weird or down right ridiculous rumors out there and let you be the judge.

Check out a sampling of today's rumor mill:

-AC Milan are planning a £20m summer swoop for Manchester United's Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov

-Portsmouth are expected to announce that their debts total £119m when their accounts for the last financial year are released later on Wednesday.

-Cesc Fabregas' father, Fabregas Sr, has denied meeting Real Madrid director general Jorge Valdano at the weekend after reports continue to link the Spain international with a move to the Bernabeu.

-Atletico Madrid playmaker Sergio Aguero has expressed his admiration for Chelsea, describing them as "one of the most feared clubs in Europe" and London as being "a really amazing city to live in". The Blues have been linked with a big-money move for the Argentina international

-Gianluigi Buffon could be heading for Manchester this summer in one of the biggest transfer deals of the close season, and Italian sources believe City are poised to outbid United for a man ranked by many as the world's number one goalkeeper.

Let know if you hear any rumors around your club!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Docket # 14..The TFC case for Thierry Henry

After watching Toronto FC for the second time this young season, two things strike me. One this is clearly a team that is still getting to know each other on the pitch, you could see in some of the passes and the positioning guys are still learning their roles under the new Preki regime.

Second and possibly more concerning for the long term, is figuring out where this club is going to score goals. In the first 30 minutes of the game TFC showed little in the way of attacking prowess. Dwayne DeRosario was the only player who showed any creativity up front as they tried to grab a foothold in the game. It really only by the grace of a bad back pass by the Philly defender to the goalie and a stupid red card challenge on Julian De Guzman by the same defender, and a lounging challenge by the keeper in the box in the second half did TFC have any of its clear cut chances. Even with the introduction of Chad Barret , O’Brien White and playing with a man up you felt as though they were going to struggle to find a goal.

After the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed by both the Players Union and The league one of the new components that came out of it was the new 3rd designated player spot for each roster. Each team could buy that 3rd spot in order to sign a player over and above the league’s salary cap. For TFC this means the club could conceivably sign two world class players to the club roster without taking a hit on the salary cap. The aforementioned De Guzman already occupies one of those spots, but who should be TFC’s next DP signing? Well based on what I’ve seen from TFC this season, and also based on the endless talk of Barca striker/attacking winger Thierry Henry’s interest in coming to North America to play. TFC should make a bid for France’s all time leading goal scorer to dawn the Reds shirt.

Now as I see in my mind the foot snobs choking on their pints, hear me out there is more of a case for Henry to at least consider coming to hogtown. There is also a few massive reasons why making a bid for Henry makes both football and business sense for TFC. I list and explain my reasons below.

For Henry:

He gets his move to North America- Now the talk of the former Arsenal captain coming to the MLS coincides with comments that Henry made saying that he would like to try his hand in North America and that he loves New York. A couple of things he should consider before he runs with the Red Bulls. The team is coming off one of the worst seasons in MLS history (5-6-19 ,21 pts). Yes they do have a new stadium this year, however can it truly match the game atmosphere at BMO on a hot July afternoon? He’ll also have to consider that the stadium is nowhere near Manhattan where he likes to chill (It’s actually in Harrison, New Jersey) He’ll also have to decide which is the better Soccer market, and with all due respect to New York’s reputation as a massive city. In terms of Soccer it is slightly behind Toronto in terms of fans recognizing him.

He gets to spread the “Henry brand”- Let’s not be delusional he won’t be leaving Barcelona just for the football in the MLS, he’ll want to build a brand like Beckham. This slightly ties into the previous point with one massive difference. In New York he will have to be sold to the New York public, in a sense he’ll have to build himself up again. Unlike David Beckham who for the most part already had a big fan base in North America, Henry will have to build his brand practically from scratch. However in Toronto he’ll already be a recognized name. There are tons of Barca and Arsenal supporters in the city who will rally around him and bring those who don’t know with them to matches to see him.

Money- Anyone who is a sports fan in Toronto knows Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) has massive amounts of cash to spend/waste on talent. If you don’t believe me check out how much Jeff Finger and Marcus Banks are being paid not to play for the Leafs and Raptors respectively. The word out is that if Henry were to sign with NYRB it would have to be tied into an ad deal in which a big part of the contact is paid by advertisers, similar to Becks deal with L.A Galaxy. MLSE would be able to pay Henry practically anything he wants without the ad deals (Though I have a suspicion this would happen anyway). Plus with the percentage of the shirt sales Henry would get, he would be rolling in cash considering how fast his TFC shirts would sell out.


Soccer exposure- MLSE can use Henry to grow its continuing investment into Canadian Soccer. MLSE loves profits more than anything and this would be an exciting business opportunity for the company. CEO Richard Pettie and the board must have seen the numbers regarding soccer enrolment for youth in Canada. MLSE could grow the game and a loyalty to the TFC brand at a young age by signing and marketing one of the game’s greatest players over the past 15 years.

Sending a message- For the club it would send a message to the rest of the MLS that TFC are serious about winning and improvement. If you listen to talk about the club outside of Toronto the product on the pitch is not taken seriously at all, and for all the talk about how great the supporters are at matches it’ll mean little if the club continues to struggle on the pitch. Even if the club fails to sign Henry, it shows that the club is looking for the best talent out there and will make attempts to bring them to BMO.

On the pitch- Of course signing Henry does not guarantee immediate success on the pitch, however what it does show the players is that there is another level that can be reach through hard preparation. This eventually will rub off on the players, especially the younger ones and the academy players. This can happen even to the senior squad as those players will try to keep up with a legend. Henry also provides a legit goal threat some TFC has never really had on the pitch, say all you want about DeRosario but he’s not a striker. With Henry’s skill against MLS defense’s one can see him scoring 20 a season pretty easily.

Overall the task of signing a player of Thierry Henry calibre is a massive undertaking which in most cases would end up in failure. However this does not mean TFC should not try, if there are serious about making the playoff and becoming a dominate power in the league as Mo Johnston says they do then the gloves need to come off. It is time for MLSE and TFC to put their money where their mouth is and make the moves the supporters and the players want. TFC needs to sign a DP this season, and frankly why not shoot for the top?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The odd state of affairs at Toronto FC

It was 2005 and I was still living in Mississauga when I first heard this crazy rumour that Toronto was on the verge of getting a new soccer club in the North American league MLS. As one of many soccer fans the local GTA area we had been starving for some sort of professional form of soccer since the demise of Toronto Lynx. The city had seen a few international friendlies with some quality sides like Brazil and Mexico, however we had no team to call our own.
When Toronto FC was formed the city was ready to embrace a team they knew would be average at best and poor on most days simply due to the fact that we had professional football we could call our own. Many people questioned if the turnout would be there for the team, would anybody give a damn in a hockey crazy market? The home opener proved them wrong, and in the 24th minute of TFC's 4th ever match was the final nail in the hater’s coffin....Or at least that’s what we hoped.
3 years later TFC supporters are starting to ask questions of management as the team has started the 2010 campaign with two very bad losses. The most recent being a 4-1 loss to New England in which the team was outplayed and completely outclasses on the pitch. The loss was preceded a few days earlier with the news of the sudden retirement of club captain and first signing Jim Brennan. At the end of last season TFC fans were treated to the most embarrassing of defeats to the lowly New York Red Bulls 5-0, which TFC needed to win to stay in the playoff picture. At the end of the game Brennan’s leadership in the locker room was questioned and the cracks in the feel good story of TFC’s initial off field success began to show. Brennan took the role of Assistant GM to Mo Johnston or “Trader Mo” as supporters have come to know him due to his many trades to “improve” the on field product. Many in the league have questioned the appointment of Jim Brennan to this position as he has no experience in front office operations of a football club. This is one in a line of seemly bizarre decisions both on and off the field that have left some TFC supporters dumbfounded.
This first was selling Maurice Edu to Rangers of Scotland (Johnston’s former club) for $5,000,000. Edu had just come off being named MLS rookie of the year and was promising to become a star midfielder for the club. Second the lack of signing a proven striker, to his credit Johnston signed Jeff Cunningham but he did not receive regular minutes to prove his worth. He has since gone to FC Dallas and was last year’s leading goal scorer in the league. Third was to play a meaningless friendly last season against Real Madrid in the middle of the season with key games coming up and a depleted roster. I understand the club’s need and right to make a profit especially with such high profile club like Madrid, but with tickets way over priced and a roster hit by injury and loss due to international call ups the club suffered and it alienated some supporters. The last was the unorthodox retirement of club cult hero Danny Dichio near the end of last season. Although Dichio was injured for the majority of last season the whole situation reeked of upper management interference.
I believe TFC supporters have been victims of terrible fan abuse from club management. It actually be more accurate to say that they have been taken advantage of by the profit mongers at MLSE (Maple leaf Sports and Entertainment). If you don’t believe me on my last point speak to a suffering Maple Leafs fan to find out. MLSE management believes it can undercut the product on the field because supporters will come out to BMO field no matter how bad the club is. Currently the club has only 17 healthy bodies to play any given match and is very close to the league salary cap. The club is currently paying large (by MLS standards) to subpar players, Chad Barrett being one of them. If results continue down this path I fear that the goodwill at BMO will wear out with the supporters, one can only survive on the honeymoon phase for so long until results are demanded....
And trust me when I say Head coach Perki, GM Mo Johnston and the entire TFC club are expected to produce a playoff berth this year.

Random musings

So I have a few thoughts on the past week in football let me know what think...

Many football writers have written about the perceived downfall of the Italian Serie A, especially about the fourth place champions league spot being handed to Germany. Is it just me or does this talk seem way to premature? If you stack the top four teams in Italy against the top four of Germany I dare you to tell me Germany will win 9 times out of 10. The top players in the world will still be attracted to playing in a markets like Milan, Rome, Turin or Florence. This is meant to be no offence to Munich, Hoffienheim, or Wolfsburg but the top teams in Italy are still light years ahead with the exception of Bayern Munich.

Sir Alex Ferguson is considered to be the greatest manager in UK football history, however the decisions in terms of team selection in the past few Weeks have been shockingly bad. From deploying a five man mid field away to Bayern with no attacking emphasis, to playing a over the hill Gary Neville against a speedy Florent Malouda and Joe Cole against Chelsea. It seems Sir Alex has lost a bit of the plot in the title race. Oh and one more thing...What the hell was he thinking playing Rooney on a seriously bummed ankle?

Note to Adrian Mutu...lay off the blow buddy!

Note to John're a twat! And you shouldn't go to South Africa, but since England has no other real international class centre backs consider yourself a lucky boy!

So Jose Mourinho is crying again that he wants out of Italian football and back into England...Good luck with that! Unless he really wants to manage Liverpool, which he does not.

If he can stay healthy Sebastian Giovinco of Juventus will be an awesome player!

Eden Hazard will also be an world class player...if he does not go to Real Madrid in the summer.

Messi is the best player in the world..but best ever...Let`s see in a few years!

One more thing Wembley...get your pitch right!


Thursday, April 8, 2010

An issue bigger than the game

With the World Cup being hosted in South Africa in less than 3 months the ugly issue of race relations in the country has become front and centre in the build up to the first game. The murder of white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche by farm hands earlier this week shed a light on the fragile relations between the majority black population, and the minority white farmers in the country. With the second largest sporting event in the world imminent, many questions have been asked about the fitness of the host country to deal with such an event.

As I alluded to in my first post, this is the first time since the end of Apartheid that South Africa will be opening its doors to host an event of this magnitude. It would be completely neieve to suggest that all has been fixed and forgiven from a truly dark time in history, if this was not evident before the actions both from the ANC youth league and the The Afrikaner Resistance Movement show things are not completely where Mandela envisioned.

One would hope these seemingly outside issues would not affect the tournament in June, however those of us who understand the history of modern football know this is simply not the case. For years racism has plagued the game on and off the pitch. From the turn of the 20th century when corrupt dictators used football clubs to promote their ideology of hatred, for example Mussolini though not a true fan of the game promoted Italian strength by openly attending Lazio matches. General Franco of Spain co-opted Real Madrid as the "team of the nation" during his rule. To more recent times in which the influx of black players from Africa and the Caribbean to major European leagues facing racial abuse from "supporters".

The most recent notable incident involved Inter Milan and Italian U 21 international Mario Balotelli having fans at Juventus make monkey noises and throwing bananas onto the pitch.

This writer wonders if the most recent events both in the political the footballing worlds involving racist elements can be used to teach and heal during the World Cup? Both South Africa and FIFA, world football's governing body, can use the tournament as a way to help heal old and deep wounds. One single tournament cannot do this on it's own, however football has shown the ability to unite people of different faiths, races, political beliefs etc.

If the powers that be in both the political world of South Africa and FIFA make a concerted effort to tackle this issue head on as they are so willing to do when it comes to advertising revenue for the tournament then maybe, just maybe, the the true healing for South Africa and the game can begin in earnest.

If you want to lean more about some campaigns to end racism I've attached a link to one organization in England doing it's part. Football Unites, Racism divides. Please paste link into your bar as the hyperlink does not work.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

We are all Witnesses

So I'm not going to spend a ton of time today speaking about how good Lionel Messi is if you want proof or have never seen the man in action check this clip out and you'll know soon enough.

As I pointed out a few weeks ago in the best of the best posts, Messi is simply the best player in the world. Tonight's proformance against Arsenal pretty much put a rubber stamp on what has been a known fact for quite sometime this season. However what must strike even the casual observer is his complete mastery over the ball. At times it truly looks as if the ball is glued to his feet when he dribbles. What also strikes me is that he seems to come up with the virtuoso displays against some of the biggest clubs in the game, Real Madrid, Man United, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, AC Milan etc. These are not push over clubs, against any other player anyone of these teams could shut down top players. The common fate that these clubs have is that Messi has burned them all! Tonights' display got so one sided I actually felt bad for Arsenal, they simply had no answer for his skill. As Arsene Wenger Arsenal's manager said in his post game remarkes "I believe we lost against a team that is better than us and that has the best player in the world," Wenger said "Once he's on the run, Messi is unstoppable. He's the only player who can change direction at such a pace."

Nuff said.


Monday, April 5, 2010

So...Why Football?

Since I started writing this blog people have been asking me why I would pick Football/Soccer as a topic. This probably stems from the fact that not a ton of people I know really follow the game and its happenings as closely as I do, or frankly care as much. I can completely understand their line of thinking as sometimes the content I write about can make no sense to them. With this in mind I decided to make a step back and describe why I love this games so much and why I would waste time writing about it.

I have to start by saying at one point in my early life I despised soccer for reasons that are now beyond me. It was only in 1999 did I really give the game a real try. For those who know me I'm a Man United supporter and having family in Manchester at the time, plus the fact they were winning everything under the sun helped me make the red conversion. The other reason I started to become a fan of the team and the game itself was the movement of the players on the pitch and the speed of the game. I enjoyed the fact that there was a continuous flow of action unlike most major North American sports. Some writers on the game have described it as Haiku with a pitch and a ball. I find that analogy a bit much but I would say that soccer or football (which ever you want to call it) is like physical artistry with a ball. The best way I've seen this described is in Pele's autobiography in which he describes that when learning football in Brazil; the relationship between the ball and the player is of the utmost importance in the game. Meaning that to really become good at football and to understand the game you must become an artist with the ball. I believe no other sport has this type of philosophy around it.

I have also come to love the game because of its international appeal. This is truly a global game, no other major sport can claim this. Soccer transcends boundaries of Race, creed, wealth etc like no other sport, all one needs is a ball and a few friends and you have a game, and the ball can be made of anything generally which lends it self to the poorest of the poor all the way up. Kids with proper pitches and boots all the way to kids with dusty fields and a ball made out of rolled up socks can have the chance to learn a play the game, this cannot be said of other sports which need significant funds it order to play.

So without keeping you here for the rest of the night, these are some of the reasons I love the game and why I eventually would like to be able to write professionally about it (if you know anyone who needs someone to write about the game on a website or something point them this way!). I believe the best is yet to come for the game, especially here in Canada where some of the pent up demand is finally being addressed through MLS expansion. I hope this gave you some insight into my passion for the game and as always I appreciate your continuing support.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spot #2 Scallywags review

Another Good morning to you! As I'm pulling a double shift for you today. I just got home watching a thrilling, and as a Man United supporter frustrating match at Scallywags between United and Chelsea. First bit of business will be a pub review, as I’m building my football bar/restaurant guide for the World Cup. The second will be a match review of the above mentioned game in another post today.

Scallywags , located at 11 St. Clair Ave W is a well known football establishment in the middle of the city. I first watched a match at Scally’s around 3 years ago and my first impression was not good to say the least. As I mentioned in my review of The Football Factory, footy supporters in my age bracket (Mid-late 20’s) are looking for an experience beyond the old pub vibe. You wouldn’t necessarily call it a club feel, but the growth of the lounge culture in the city it makes the pub vibe seem dull and outdated. This was the felling I got from Scally’s on my first visit. It also didn’t help that a small pub fight broke out between a Arsenal and a Tottenham supporter, which lead to a very on edge feeling. Another issue for me was that there wasn’t much football talk going on, and the few random conversations I heard were on a very immature and plain stupid level. So based on those issues I hadn’t been back there to watch a match.

Today however I decided to give the place another chance. I wanted to see if the venue could live up to a big match, and there are not many that are bigger than United v Chelsea with top of the table on the line. So with that I headed out at 7am to watch the game. I have to say it didn’t start well, within minutes of walking in I was berated by a random older man for wearing a United shirt. Now I understand supporting your club but there is a point where you become less of a supporter and more of a jackass! Another issue was that for a good while I was the youngest person in the place, by a mile. Generally I have no issue with age in a bar, however it at times makes it difficult to start a conversation and due to my age it is assumed that I know nothing about the game. As I was sitting and typing my post earlier this morning I was starting to rue my decision about going to Scally’s.

Shortly after kick off though something happened that I did not expect, the same older man that had berated me earlier came up to me and apologized. After that we began to talk about the game and his lifelong love of Chelsea. You could feel the passion for the game in the room as the match progressed, and with so many people there it actually became a very fun atmosphere to watch the match in. I must also mention the excellent servers at Scallywags, the place was packed and though there was no food served until around half time they made sure everyone was well taken care of in terms of tea and coffee. Now make no mistake Scallywags is mainly and English pub with many English ex pats so if you’re looking for Barca v Valencia you’re out of luck. However if you’re looking for a place to check out EPL or England matches you’re in the right place. This in my eyes limits how good a football venue it can be. I can say though by the end of the match today I slightly changed my mind about the place, though it won’t be my first choice to watch a match.

I wish I could tell you about the drinks and food options at Scallywags, but there wasn’t any food to order until halftime and frankly I’m not a bangers and mash kind of guy. In terms of drinks the bar looked well stocked and there was a good selection on the taps, but with it being 8 in the morning the pints were not flowing for good reason. Overall Scallywags is a football pub plain and simple, no flash or pomp just pints and some old boys, but if that’s what you want then Scallywags is probably the best place to be.

If you’ve been there or any of the places I’m reviewing let me know what you think.


Review of scallywags +Man Utd v Chelsea match review

Morning all!

After a long and drink filled Good Friday, I'm up early at Scallywags at 11 St. Clair W to watch United take on Chelsea. I'll need at few more coffees before kick off, but I'll provide you with matcg feedback and pub feedback at the end of the match.

Cheers it gonna be a good one either way!